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Burlington Northern v. United States

Docket No.: 07-1601
Certiorari Granted: 10/1/2008
Argued: February 24, 2009
Decided: May 4, 2009
Consolidated with: Shell Oil v. United States, 07-1607 Heard By Roberts Court (2006-2009) Opinion 556 U.S. ___ (2009) Granted Wednesday, October 1, 2008 Argued Tuesday, February 24, 2009 Decided Monday, May 4, 2009

PartyNames: Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, et al. v. United States, et al.
Petitioner: Burlington Northern Rail Road
Respondent: United States et al.

Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Burlington Northern Rail Road
v.
United States et al.
Background:

The Comprehensive, Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C. ยง9601 et seq., allows the government to obtain reimbursement for the costs of remediating hazardous waste sites from the owners and operators of land on which a disposal of hazardous substances has occurred. Because even passive landowners may be subjected to CERCLA liability, Congress removed language from early CERCLA bills mandating joint and several liability for multiple defendants who own or operate a particular site. In the present case, the Ninth Circuit nevertheless imposed joint and several liability for the entire cost of a facility's remediation on two landlords, even though they owned only a portion of the overall site for a fraction of its period of operation, and the parcel they owned required no remediation.

Question Presented:

The question presented is: Whether the Ninth Circuit erred by reversing the district court's reasonable apportionment of responsibility under CERCLA, and by adopting a standard of review and proof requirements that depart from common law principles and conflict with decisions of other circuits.

Question:

1) Is Shell Oil Company liable for "arranging" the disposal of hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) when it merely sold and shipped a product that only caused contamination while under the control and ownership of the purchaser? 2) Did the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit err by reversing the district court’s liability calculations under CERCLA?

Holding: reversed and remanded
Vote: 8-1
Opinion By:
Read BURLINGTON NORTHERN V. UNITED STATES opinion (PDF)
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